The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia
Wednesday, 11 October 2023 10:38

Tennessee Project Milkweed orders top 300,000 and exhaust the free supply. TDOT says there’s more to come.

Written by Hellbender Press

download 2Monarch butterfly feeding off milkweed. TDOT launched a program to promote milkweed production, a common source of food for butterflies, birds and other insects. cc zero 2

Free milkweed seed will help citizens restore landscapes and preserve habitat; orders commence again in June for popular TDOT project

NASHVILLE — Amid unprecedented citizen demand, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) halted online orders for free milkweed seed, offered as part of its Project Milkweed. Launched in June 2023, this mail-order resource was aimed at restoring landscapes and preserving habitats for monarch butterflies and other pollinator species. Since June, TDOT has taken nearly 131,000 individual orders from Tennesseans for milkweed seed. In total, 779,601 red and common milkweed seed packets were requested. The program will return in June 2024.

“TDOT is happy to offer such a popular program to the public, and to empower Tennesseans to do their part in saving pollinators as they are vital to life, growing food, and the economy of Tennessee,” said TDOT Commissioner Butch Eley in a release.

Orders exhausted a stock of 300,000 milkweed seed packets by Sept. 30. Additional seed material has been ordered and is expected to arrive in October. All remaining orders will be fulfilled then, according to TDOT. 

Because of the late delivery, TDOT recommends to plant the seeds next spring. Specialized instructions will come with all late orders for over-wintering seeds as cold stratification/cold dormancy is required for higher germination rate.

Pollinators are a diverse group of species that includes birds, bees, butterflies, bats and beetles. They are critically important to life and their numbers are in steady decline as a result of habitat loss, pests, pathogens, pesticides and other stressors.  TDOT

 Milkweed is a flowering plant that serves a critical role as a host plant in the lifecycle of monarch butterflies. Host plants are necessary for the survival and growth of other organisms. Milkweed provides a place for monarchs to lay their eggs and serves as food for their larvae and caterpillars. The natural toxins within the milkweed leave build-up in the body of the caterpillar and give the adult butterfly a bitter taste for protection against predators. Both the monarch butterfly population and milkweed habitats have experienced a 90 percent decline since 1992, and efforts like Project Milkweed are critical to restoring these pollinators and host plants.

Project Milkweed is a subset of TDOT’s Pollinator Habitat Program, a partnership between multiple state agencies and nonprofits that aims to conserve native pollinators and pollinator habitats. Pollinators are more diverse than just bees and butterflies and can include birds, bats, beetles, moths, wasps and more. They are not only important for the growth of native wildflowers but also for contributing an estimated $24 billion to the economy by pollinating food crops. Pollinators around the world are experiencing large population declines because of habitat loss, disease, pesticide use and changing climate. 

Monika G. Pretz, PhD, a staff biologist and Pollinator Program Leader at Tennessee Environmental Council, said now is a perfect time to plant native wildflowers. 

“The entire ecosystem is based on the support of these plants. Pollinators are picky eaters and insects are host plat specialist and need native plants to complete their life cycle, but only monarch butterflies and queen butterflies need milkweed.”

Rate this item
(3 votes)
Last modified on Wednesday, 20 December 2023 10:09